It doesn’t matter how many times you call a donkey a horse, it’s still a donkey.
Grant Shapps announcement of the so-called ‘affordable homes’ programme boasts that the programme will spend around £1.8billion on producing 80,000 ‘affordable homes’ of which 63,000 will be for ‘affordable rent’ and 17,000 for ‘affordable home ownership’. Shapps says that “The new Affordable Rent model, which will be the principal element of the Programme, will make public subsidy go further while enabling local authorities and providers to target support where it is most needed.”
The implication from the announcement is that there are NO homes for social rent (ie at target rents) in the programme. Social rented housing and targets rents are not even mentioned.
Shapps’ announcement, and the listing of the 146 organisations who will receive funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (including 26 councils), is more remarkable for what it fails to say than what it does say.
There is NO information about the rent levels that the ‘affordable rent’ homes will be let at. This could be up to 80% of market rents although we know that many bidders have gone for a mix of rents to try to keep the rent of larger family homes down, but this crucial information has not seen the light of day. Housing website 24 Dash claims that the average rent will be 72-73% of market rent and that Mr Shapps is claiming that the average in London will be 65%, but the figures are not published. These averages represent enormous rent increases for tenants of new homes compared to the previous regime. They will intensify the poverty and employment traps and increase the housing benefit bill.
There is NO information about how many re-lets of existing stock will be let at ‘affordable rent’ levels instead of social rent or target rent levels to pay for the programme – the key policy that will lead to a large net reduction in the number of homes being made available from the exisiting stock for rent at genuinely affordable rents.
There is NO information about which bids were refused and why.
Classically, the information is stage managed to look good, to resemble a thoroughbred policy, building a good-sounding number of ‘affordable homes’. But new subsidy is now only available for what is really ‘intermediate rent’ and low cost home ownership. I have been an advocate for intermediate housing over the years as a parallel programme to social rent, but make no mistake: this policy is about ending social rent new build and gradually chipping away at the existing stock of homes for social rent. It has a few enthusiasts but they are the usual suspects in the housing association and local authority worlds who have wanted to stop providing housing for the poorest for some time.
There is no doubt: the policy is not a horse, nor even a mule. It is an ass.